Mass Media News

Cause for Despair, or...? On the evolution, status, and future of news reportage and the public interest.

Are you distracted about the news or about the media's handling of it?

ding!"What's the news, across the nation?
We have got the information
In a way we hope will a - muuuusssse yooooou...."
-from the old Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In

If you live in Cape Cod, the major all-columns headline and the large full-color photo on the front page is Rose Kennedy's death. All you mentioned, Bob, and this, just shows to go ya that the news is there for its infotainment value.

Originally, or at least in colonial America, weren't "newspapers" more like the editorial pages, mostly opinion sheets? News came by word of mouth. So I think the concept of "journalism" newspapers, as allegedly objective reportage, came later. (I'm open to correction on my history here.) But while the good reporters, also artists, statesmen and businessmen, were looking the other way, the salesmen took over their worlds. The point of your local newspaper may be to influence opinion in the editor's mind, to report nobly on human doin's from the reporter's point of view, but the real reason for both is to sell ads.

Same with videonews. Now, I'm not decrying making a buck, and I make more if I can, but when marketing, sales, being the biggest and charging the most, becomes the driving force rather than a supporting function, then you have news that is shaped by ratings weeks and by which vidclip best goggles the rubes. What's the biggest selling newspaper in the nation? The National Enquirer, I believe. Even if it's USA Today, that's not such a significant difference [grin — now I'm sure to hear from some hardworking, journalistic USA Today reporter who's right here on line]. They serve those selfsame shoppers as your local "news."

National network news, CNN Headline News, these broader markets still try to maintain an air of journalistic quality, or so I guess since I haven't watched a broadcast network news report in many years and even on CNN, with some of the dopey stories and sensationalist approaches, it's hard to see how these people can think of themselves as being much above tabloids. All products of the public school system no doubt, like their audience. :)

You complain about your local news readers (where is you at, anyway?) hardly covering Kobe; CNN did some good extended reportage, but an awful lot of that "lingering on the mourning victims and heart-breaking individual examples" stuff. Yes, I know what pain is like, thanks. What's the news? (I'm not saying there should be none of this, only that they dwell on it far too much.)

So, what've we got? The locals don't have to deliver ze big news (didn't he work for Nixon?) because the networks take care of that, so they can focus on pumped-up local-interest stories that boost ratings and sell ads. But in all cases, cheesiest local to best network, we've got a public that's too much entertainment-gluttonous and news-disinterested. The media cater to the market, and the market shape the media. A downward spiral of quality of expectations and goods shapes a mediocre system. I recall folks addressing this very problem 'way back in the '60s, and how far the media have fallen since then only seems to bear the problem out.

But there's a (I hate this phrase, don't even really know what the heck it's supposed to mean, but having seen it several times in the past few days, I guess it's a fad and I want to be among the first to jump on a bandwagon for a change) sea change going on in your news access. If you know how to pump the web, you can get news right here on this screen you're looking at (and — heh — please don't tell me you printed this out), faster and more complete than your local newshounds even know about it. Besides the various newsnet feeds (like AP, Reuters &c. which CompuServe carries), just tapping into various forums on CIS has often brought me news long before it hits the papers. I've sometimes seen some news story, not the latest hard news of course but not all that soft either, printed in a newspaper days after I got the same story off CIS, as if it had just happened. And I've more than once read major news from people it's happening to right here on the nets before the media have had the story. It's back to word of mouth, with a worldwide ear. And with some of the problems of the "coloring" of the news of those days. Would you like to subscribe to my vidtext opinion sheet? [kidding]

This is only an embryonic stage, of course. For that word-of-mouth, you have to dig, and that's not as cozy as Joe Blow turning on his tube. So we have a problem here on the front end of stratification — the lazy media catering more and more to an undereducated and lazy market with an interactive media demanding intelligent application. And news providing, which has for years been aggregating into a few major sources, is getting thrown open as well. You can't yet get a CIS menu of today's video newsclips, download them, and view them, the way you can AP text copy, but we're very close. When both regional and world news are available in such customizable form, news provision will still be market-driven, but you won't have the mass choices dictating the arrangements. Joe Blow can catch his big basketball story (and Joe's not such a bad guy for being more interested in the local team than a distant tragedy, is he?) first up if he wants, and you can punch up your congressperson's activities of the day. (Something about the image of punching up a congressperson that I'll bet appeals to a lot of people.)

As the technology becomes more accessible to the ordinary person, as we become less oriented toward "running computers" or "watching television" and more oriented toward being able to get out of them what we want, we may be able to reduce the stratification. I have great expectations about the educational value of this evolving "new" medium, as well, because I've got to have something to lend me hope that the attitudes of Joe Blow will transcend the local and the mundane and the trivial. Otherwise, we'll have fifty thousand channels of I Love Lucy reruns. Hey, I started out trying to cheer you up and I end up getting depressed? Forgive my rambling. Been under the weather the past few days.

LucyDid you ask for this?

Another Mindful Webwork about mass media:
TV or Not TV — Yes, Virginia, there is an 'off' switch.